The tiny planet Mercury lingers in the western sky after sunset, still tangled in the lacework of star clusters in the constellation Taurus. The planet reaches greatest eastern elongation on May 7, 2015 at an angular distance of 21º from the Sun. Mercury is visible over the next few days about 10 degrees above the NW horizon for northern-hemisphere observers, and just 5 degrees above the horizon for southern-hemisphere observers. Here’s what to look for in the next few days…
Now to a superb think piece by Lee Billings about a recent search for advanced alien civilizations in other galaxies. While it may sound far-fetched, the search was grounded in hard science. Assuming advanced civilizations have learned to harness the energy of stars to build solar-system-wide habitats, we should be able to see the waste energy in the form of infrared (IR) light over and above the background light of a galaxy. After searching 100,000 galaxies for excess IR, no sign was found beyond what’s expected from natural processes. So maybe there are no advanced civilizations, at least yet. Or perhaps there’s a subtler answer… that advanced life, assuming it exists, might evolve to be efficient and integrated with its natural environment. It’s a fascinating read.<
It’s galaxy season! Between the constellations Leo and Virgo, in a patch of sky no larger than your outstretched hand, you can see dozens of the more than two thousand galaxies of the Virgo cluster, the largest major galaxy cluster to our Milky Way. Have a look at this superb image of part of the Virgo cluster taken with a backyard telescope, and learn a little about how galaxy clusters evolve….
The last few years have seen an explosion of nightscape photography, a combination of landscape and astrophotography using new DSLR cameras with the latest large, low-noise sensors. It’s not an easy form of photography, least of all because you need to stand in complete darkness, in the middle of nowhere, for hours at a time. But I love this art form. One of my very favorite nightscapes is by David Kingham, who from Death Valley, California, managed to image a remarkable “sailing stone” in a dried mud flat with the stars of Orion and Canis Major in the background. It’s a superb piece of photography.
>Finally this week, just to show that sometimes I get to do a little stargazing myself, I present a short observing report from my ‘observer’s log’ taken during a night of backyard galaxy hopping.
Wishing you clear skies,